PARIS: Climate change and the loss of biodiversity expose our dependence on the world of nature, from everything we eat to the air we breathe.
But nature also has a solution to other problems, inspiring scientific discoveries in a multitude of unexpected ways.
Nature is a source of inspiration for science because it has understood the way the Earth supports life, ”said Lex Amore of the Institute of Biomimicry.
“We need to emulate biological blueprints that have been successful for millennia to launch revolutionary ideas faster.”
From stinky durian fruit that could charge electric cars to sea sponges that could help build better spaceships, here’s a selection of this year’s nature-inspired science.
Removal of tumors and blood clots with minimally invasive surgery will soon become easier thanks to a flexible, ultra-thin and manageable needle inspired by parasitic wasps.
These frightening insects inject their eggs into living hosts like caterpillars through a hollow needle called an ovipositor.
Scientists from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the mechanism of egg delivery, with blades that alternately slide up and down, using friction to pierce the eggs.
The researchers designed a needle made of sliding rods that mimic an egg-laying machine, according to recent research from Frontiers in bioengineering and biotechnology.
They say the new needle is capable of reaching deeply buried parts of the body to inject medicine or remove harmful formations, while minimizing trauma and the patient’s recovery time.
This is a completely different outcome than for targets of parasitic wasps, whose larvae often devour their host caterpillar from within.
Spiders make silk to entangle undoubted bugs, but now people can use it to make optical lenses capable of displaying viruses that are invisible to the naked eye.
In a June study published in the Journal of Applied Physics, scientists said they used long-legged silk traction – which forms the frame of the net – to support the lens.
In the experiments, they covered a strand of spider silk with wax and then dripped resin on it. As it condensed, the silk naturally formed a dome that the researchers baked in an ultraviolet oven.
The resulting optical lens is approximately the size of red blood cells and could be used to image nano-scale objects such as viruses or the interior of biological tissue.
As the lens is made of natural, non-toxic material, it can be safely used in the body.
A complex lattice sea sponge called the Venus Flower Basket found in the depths of the Pacific Ocean could inspire stronger skyscrapers, longer bridges and lighter spacecraft, a September study published in the journal Nature Materials showed.
Scientists have discovered that the structure of the tubular skeleton of a sponge gives a higher ratio of strength and mass than traditional designs used for centuries for buildings and bridges.
“We’ve been studying the relationships of structure and function in sponge bone systems for more than 20 years and these species continue to surprise us,” said co-author James Weaver, a scientist at Harvard University.
Some are juicy and tasty, others are so stinky that they are routinely forbidden to enter hotel rooms throughout Southeast Asia.
But the durian fruit may add a new unexpected reason for its fame – helping to charge mobile phones and electric cars.
In a February study published in the Journal of Energy Storage, scientists described how they made extremely light and porous materials from fruits called aerogels.
Aerogels are “shiny super-condensers,” resembling energy-consuming energy reservoirs, said Vincent Gomes, co-author and associate professor at the University of Sydney.
“(Supercapacitors) can quickly store large amounts of energy in a small battery-sized device,” he said.
They can then deliver power to charge electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops within seconds, he added.
Cars, planes and buildings are mostly made of steel, concrete or brick.
Bamboo has attracted interest as a versatile building material. But how to make it strong enough? In a May study published in ACS Nano, researchers said they found the answer.
By partially removing lignin – the organic substance that makes woody tissue – and using bamboo microwaves, the researchers said that its strength has almost doubled.
Bamboo is already used to build houses and bridges, but this new discovery could further increase its popularity as a lightweight, fast-growing and sustainable alternative to polluting materials.
From forests to the depths of the ocean, Amore of the Institute of Biomimicry said there is “so much intelligence” in the natural world.
“We can use biomimicry, this practice of studying nature and replicating its strategies in design, to not only learn from natural wisdom, but also to heal ourselves – and this planet – in the process.”